Ulster Farmers’ Union President, Barclay Bell, says the live export of cattle must be encouraged and supported by DAERA to help boost beef farmers’ incomes.
Mr Bell was speaking after an LMC seminar on reducing barriers to the live trade to Great Britain.
“For too long beef producers here have been kept at the bottom of the UK price league table. Last week, the difference between NI and GB on R3 steers was 24p/kg. On a 350 kg animal that is over £80”, said Mr Bell, describing this as a major financial disparity.
“With margins so tight, farmers rightly question how cattle supplied to the same processing companies, to the same quality assurance standard and ending up in the same supermarket shelves can be worth so much less here than in Great Britain,” he said.
The UFU’s beef and lamb committee believes DAERA can help tackle this is by encouraging an increase in cattle exports.
“This has been a priority for the agriculture minister in the Republic of Ireland. We believe the DAERA minister should follow that lead,” said Mr Bell.
The UFU President added that with prices dictated by supply and demand farmers need the opportunity to secure access to the best paying markets.
“The improved sheep trade this year has been a good example, with a weaker pound injecting much needed competition into the live market from ROI processors. However beef producers have more limited options, meaning the majority of cattle are slaughtered locally. This leaves processors here facing little competition for stock,” said Mr Bell.
The UFU says that in the drive to open new markets the LMC seminar helped trigger a constructive debate between industry and government about how barriers to live exports can be eased. Some barriers that face farmers and hauliers here do not exist in Great Britain, particularly in relation to the movement of healthy cattle to slaughter from TB restricted herds.
Based on the discussion at the seminar it appears there are opportunities for DAERA to do something positive for beef producers.